New research from UC Riverside reports alarming findings on the risks of exposure to carcinogenic chemicals from time spent in a car. The study, published in the journal Environment International, focuses on the risk of exposure to two known carcinogens, benzene and formaldehyde, found in synthetic fibers and plastics used in vehicle manufacturing.
"These chemicals are very volatile, moving easily from plastics and textiles to the air that you breathe," said David Volz, UCR professor of environmental toxicology. Both have been listed as Prop. 65 chemicals, meaning they cause cancer or reproductive toxicity at certain levels of exposure.
Volz collaborated with lead author Aalekhya Reddam to investigate the exposure faced by car commuters on their daily rides of 20 or more minutes. Concentrating their analysis on Californians, they found that up to 90% of the population in Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Santa Clara, and Alameda counties have at least a 10% chance of exceeding cancer risk from inhaling benzene and formaldehyde.
"Of course, there is a range of exposure that depends on how long you're in the car, and how much of the compounds your car is emitting," noted Reddam. Commuters looking to decrease their risk can drive with their windows opens so as to dilute the chemicals in the air inside the vehicle, suggests Reddam.
“Overall, our study raises concerns about the potential risk associated with inhalation of benzene and formaldehyde for people who spend a significant amount of time in their vehicles, an issue that is especially pertinent to traffic-congested areas where people have longer commutes,” comment the authors.
Nevertheless, Volz says the responsibility for fixing this dilemma ultimately resides with manufacturing companies. "There should be alternatives to these chemicals to achieve the same goals during vehicle manufacturing," Volz said. "If so, these should be used."